The CDC Has New Guidelines About Violent Customers Flouting COVID Rules

With tensions still high, here's how businesses can avoid potentially dangerous situations.

The pandemic and differing opinions about what should be required of the public in the face of it have raised tensions in the U.S. As businesses have reopened, reports and videos of verbal and even physical altercations among customers and employees have come out in a fairly steady stream. There have even been instances where employees have been assaulted when they've asked customers to comply with COVID safety regulations. In response to these reports, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued new, serious guidelines for businesses to help them deescalate these situations and keep both customers and employees safe.

In a report titled "Limiting Workplace Violence Associated with COVID-19 Prevention Policies in Retail and Services Businesses," the agency recommends a series of strategies, as well as a list of dos and don'ts. To prevent violence in the workplace, the CDC advises client-facing businesses to make customers and employees fully aware of new safety measures by posting them online and in-store, and, if possible, to assign dedicated staff members for ensuring that customers are complying. Another way to avoid volatile situations is to offer service with limited contact, such as curbside pickup.

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The CDC also recommends that businesses arm their employees with "threat recognition, conflict resolution, [and] nonviolent response" strategies through trainings. Trainings on these topic will help employees to identify a potentially violent customer before they attempt to hurt anyone.

"Verbal cues can include speaking loudly or swearing. Non-verbal cues can include clenched fists, heavy breathing, fixed stare, and pacing, among other behaviors. The more cues shown, the greater the risk of violence," the CDC writes.

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Employees should also be educated in methods of deescalating those situations through actions that won't put them at further risk, which may include "paying attention to a person and maintaining non-threatening eye contact" or "using supportive body language and avoiding threatening gestures, such as finger pointing or crossed-arms."

Additionally, businesses should be sure that supervisors/managers are observing or monitoring interactions to be aware of any time an employee or another customer may need assistance. If the worst happens and a physically violent situation occurs, there should be a response plan in place and a safe space for employees to go. Ideally, the CDC says, this should be "a room that locks from the inside, has a second exit route, and has a phone or silent alarm."

As far as the dos and don'ts of avoiding workplace violence, the dos center around awareness and reporting any potentially dangerous situation to the appropriate parties. When it comes to don'ts, employees are advised to never "argue with a customer if they make threats or become violent." And though this may seem counterintuitive, employees are also warned not to force anyone "who appears upset or violent" to follow COVID precautions. They may pose a more immediate threat, and pressing the issue that's upsetting them could be even more harmful. And for more advice from the agency, The CDC Just Made a Major Reveal With This New COVID Guideline.

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Sage Young
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